Bread. 22 August 2008
Singapore shows Burmese dissidents the door
Led by Singapore's George Yeo, Asean foreign ministers last September "expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar [were] being suppressed by violent force", and called on the military junta there to "work towards a peaceful transition to democracy."
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had spoken "to his ASEAN counterparts... and [would] be writing to Senior General Than Shwe," the joint Asean statement said . During that period, Singapore was the rotating chair of Asean, and people thought this unusually strong statement was a hopeful sign of where Singapore stood. But was this government, always so boastful of its "integrity", being sincere?
After handing over the chair of Asean to Thailand last month, Singapore appears to have reverted to its true nature -– and mindless of our international reputation too -– which is to punish anyone who had organised and spoken out against a fellow authoritarian government.
Their core philosophy seems to be: "Autocrats of the world, unite!"
Six Burmese have been thrown out of Singapore in the last month or so when their residency passes were denied renewals. While the immigration office has not provided any explanation for any of these cases -- and the silence itself can be read as sinister -– "they had some commonalities", said Myo Myint Maung at a press conference on 22 August.
All six have had their personal particulars recorded by the police at one or more events organised by the expatriate Burmese community since last September, and each of them have, at least once, been summoned to Tanglin Police Station for investigation.
One of the six persons our government threw out had in fact been bonded to work for Singapore-registered companies for 3 years, a condition of a tuition grant given by the Ministry of Education. Maung Soe Thiha had been looking forward to start work when he graduated from the National University of Singapore this year.
His student pass expiring upon graduation, he applied for a Long Term Social Visit Pass, to look for a job. This should be routine, and "normally, people on Long term Social Visit Passes can stay for 6 months or more to seek employment," said Myo. But in Soe Thiha's case, the government rejected his application altogether, giving no reason for its decision.
Simultaneous with these events, the young man's job search had just about found success. Hai Yong Engineering was prepared to give him his first job and the company promptly filed an electronic application for an Employment Pass for him. Without any visa at all, however, Soe Thiha had to leave Singapore. Hai Yong's application for an Employment Pass for him is still in limbo three weeks later.
He is now languishing in Cambodia living on his savings.
Another equally ridiculous case is that of Hlaing Moe. He had been working as a Technical Supervisor with Sankyu (Singapore) Pte Ltd since July 2006 on an S Pass, which is the residency document for skilled foreigners. He applied for a renewal of his S Pass in July this year (his company was willing to continue employing him) but this application was also rejected without any explanation.
He therefore could only continue staying for a short while more under a Social Visit Pass (i.e. a tourist pass).
Hlaing Moe was also a part-time student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, studying for a Diploma in Technology (Mechanical) with exams on 14 – 24 August 2008. He appealed for an extension of his Social Visit Pass to enable him to complete his exams, but this appeal was rejected, also without any reason.
He is now languishing in Malaysia.
Myo Mying Maung provided more details of 2 other cases at the press conference, which you can glean from his press release, archived as Burmese citizens denied renewal of visas in Singapore
Not in the Press Statement is the case of Thu Yean Win. He was at the press conference to share with the public his experience over his application for Permanent Residency (PR).
Thu Yean Win has been working in Singapore for over a year (but less than 2 years) as an Assistant Engineer with a private company. He is also on the executive committee of the Overseas Burmese Patriots in Singapore (OBP).
In April this year, he applied for Permanent Residency, following which he was asked to attend an interview at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in June.
To his surprise, there was virtually nothing in the two-and-a-half hour interview relating to his application for PR status, nothing on his qualifications or the documents that he had submitted. Instead, the 2 officers present focussed exclusively on his Burmese patriotic activities.
"They asked me: 'Who is the leader of the OBP? How many members do you have? Who are they? What are their names? Where do you usually gather for meetings?' And they also asked about my close friends."
At one point, they asked him if he would inform them in advance of any activities by the OBP. It's not clear (to me at least) what answer he gave them, but the more important point, as you can see, is what our government agents are up to.
Thu Yean Win had in March this year helped organise a petition against the junta's referendum on their extremely undemocratic new constitution. While doing so, his particulars were recorded by some officers, and he was subsequently summoned to a police station for investigations.
The number of Burmese whose particulars have been recorded by the police for participating in various activities is unknown. "Perhaps 50," was Myo Myint Maung's best guess. But going by these examples, all of them may well be expecting the worst.
It's not easy to find another country to take them. Do they have to return to Burma? Chasing them out of Singapore "may put them into physical danger of the violence that the Singapore government condemned [last year]," said Myo Myint Maung.
Myo was careful to stress that he was not calling these cases deportations. He pointed out that strictly speaking, each case was one of a non-renewal of residency papers. He concedes that such decisions are up to the Singapore government; as foreigners they cannot demand the right to stay. The intent of the press conference was to raise awareness of this trend and ask the Singapore government for reasons for the non-renewals.
He was being diplomatic.
Yawning Bread is a citizen of Singapore. I don't have to be diplomatic. Let me be blunt: For all practical purposes, these are deportations. By putting their lives at risk, the Singapore government is as callous as the junta when they blocked foreign aid to Cyclone Nargis victims. By penalising anyone who has spoken out against generals, the Singapore government is aiding and abetting those generals in their continuing crime against humanity.
Not only is this deportation policy morally wrong -- shockingly, revoltingly wrong -- but from a self-interest perspective, it is unbelievably stupid.
Do we think the military regime will last forever? Impossible. One day, it will fall and these young men and women whom we antagonise today will quite possibly be part of the new government. How can it serve Singapore's interest to be on the wrong side of history?
What fools we have for a government.
© Yawning Bread